The above principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this case study

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership: Spatial Plan for Recovery and Growth

What is this case study about?

This study is about the development of the spatial framework for the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP). In late 2011 the GBSLEP Board first approved, in principle, the preparation of a strategic spatial framework plan covering the LEP area. The process has been delegated to a spatial planning group which is a voluntary partnership of public-private planners across the LEP with wider academic and environment group representation. The preparation of the Plan has been through the identification of ideas, extensive survey work and scenarios to produce a draft framework currently being subject to consultation until December 2013.

What is its contextual setting?

  • From the outset this Plan was seen to be unique from elsewhere in the UK; specifically:
  • It would be informal, prepared through voluntary collaborative working amongst the LEP local planning authorities assisted by private, environmental and academic partners.
  • It would be strategic providing a helpful context for existing and emerging plans and helping inform subsequent reviews.
  • The collaborative work on the Plan would help all local planning authorities satisfy the statutory Duty to Co-operate requirements (Localism Act 2011).
  • The plan should take a long term perspective, looking ahead at least 20 years and consider the broad scale and distribution of growth.
  • It would provide a focus for relationships with adjoining LEPs crossing scales and sectors across the West and East Midlands and beyond.
  • The plan process recognises that not all matters neither can nor need to be resolved at the same time. This ensures a flexible but robust approach.

How has the Ecosystem Approach been used?

The Ecosystem Approach has been used implicitly due to the lack of knowledge and familiarity with ecosystem thinking. An approach has been developed fusing spatial planning ideas with the Ecosystem Approach using the hook of the Duty to Co-operate. This necessitated crossing traditional public-private-business-academic-environmental boundaries. The development of a collaborative partnership model has allowed strategic consideration of housing need, climate change, flooding and employment across the GBSLEP as a whole. In so doing this augments the current GBSLEP economic strategy set within a virtuous triangle of Community, Economy and Environment. The draft spatial framework includes a set of operational principles (endorsed by the LEP board) that correspond with the 12 principles of the Ecosystem Approach to guide behaviour and policy.

What has happened?

  • An initial visioning event was held in Solihull (February 2013) where initial mapping exercise of development plan policy across the GBSLEP was presented and discussed.
  • Engagement events were held around a further series of themed events across the LEP (held in Bromsgrove, East Staffordshire, Solihull and Birmingham in September 2012).
  • The identification and development of five Theme Groups and Leads to progress the framework: Shaping the Economy; Homes & Communities; Connectivity; Sustainable Living & Environment; and Urban Structure.A scenario testing phase using the five Theme Groups (December 2012 to January 2013).
  • The identification and conceptual mapping of drivers of change.
  • A synthesis of the work so far at a brainstorming workshop of Theme Group Leads and other senior representatives drawn from across the GBSLEP to initiate strategy development and the identification of initial strategic objectives and strategic policies.
  • The expression of the outputs in a presentation and series of related exercises to the Planning Summit held in Birmingham in April 2013.
  • A draft consultation strategy. published October 2013.
  • A series of consultation events including the adaption of Rufopoly to maximise stakeholder engagement.
  • Background papers including presentations to the events and notes taken are all available online at:

What is the added value of using the Ecosystem Approach?

  • A set of principles have been established to guide the planning process that embed the lens of the Ecosystem Approach.
  • New opportunity spaces have been created including a pioneering biodiversity offset scheme; green infrastructure planning to link key centres across the LEP for recreational benefits.
  • The lexicon of benefits and opportunities has helped to frame aspects of Duty to Co-operate within a wider understanding of linkages and dependencies; e.g. flood mitigation by investing in upstream farmers.
  • The consideration of ecosystem services has led to the increased profile for agriculture, soil and biodiversity in the framework; here recognition has been given to the value of the Nature Improvement Area (NIA).

What are the key barriers to progress/mainstreaming?

  • The perception that the framework is nothing more than a cumulative distillation of all planning policy across the LEP with limited added value.
  • The lack of community group and third sector representation thus far has led to some critical comments about the ownership of the framework.

What are the lessons learnt?

  • There are advantages in not using the language of ecosystem services explicitly when working with spatial planners.
  • Working with existing mechanisms as hooks such as the Duty to Co-operate is a better guarantor of success than using something new and outside day-to-day working.
  • The importance of the Spatial Framework as an evolving process rather than being a plan to a fixed timetable has enabled a much more fluid and flexible process maximising learning and feedback amongst participants.
  • The power of a voluntary grouping of people within a meaningful public private partnership of spatial planners who have a real stake in the process and the outcomes.

What next?

The consultation process took place between September and December 2012 with the final strategy submitted to the GBSLEP board for approval in Spring 2014.

Case study authors: A Scott and D Carter